Over the last few years, whistleblowers and ex-employees of top social networking companies have begun to shed light on the dark sides of social networking sites.
Profits Over Protection
Just last week Frances Haugen, a former data scientist at Facebook, testified before a Senate subcommittee. She argued that Facebook consistently chooses to maximize its growth rather than implement safeguards on its platforms.
Of particular concern is the impact on children by Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.
Haugen leaked Facebook studies which showed that:
- 13.5% of U.K. teen girls say their suicidal thoughts became more frequent after starting on Instagram
- 17% of teen girls say their eating disorders got worse after using Instagram
- About 32% of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse
The Social Dilemma
Haugen is not the first ex-employee who has raised these concerns.
In the excellent movie, The Social Dilemma, several former employees of these top social networking companies spoke out. The same people who helped develop many of the social networking sites we use today (Google, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest) came forward to sound an alarm on their own creations.
We titled this post after the movie’s powerful tagline: the technology that connects us also controls us.
Some have called The Social Dilemma “the most important documentary of our time,” and we personally believe that every adult, parent and (age-appropriate) child should view it.
According to Tristan Harris, a former Google executive featured in the movie: “If something is a tool, it genuinely is just sitting there, waiting patiently. If something is not a tool, it’s demanding things from you. It’s seducing you, it’s manipulating you, it wants things from you… Social media isn’t a tool waiting to be used. It has its own goals, and it has its own means of pursuing them by using your psychology against you.”
As rates of anxiety, depression, addiction and suicide continue to skyrocket, this is not something we can ignore any longer.
- The number of teen girls admitted to the hospital for non-fatal self-harm (cutting or otherwise harming themselves) is up 62% for girls age 15-19 and 189% for girls age 10-14 since 2009
- U.S. suicide rates are up 70% for teen girls age 15-19 and 151% for girls age 10-14, compared to the 2001-2010 average
It has become abundantly clear to us that:
- Social media is designed to be addictive
- Our children are at risk
- It is up to us to first learn and then teach how to use social media and electronic devices safely
“Using” Technology Safely
Did you know that there are only two industries that call their customers “users”? The illegal drug and the software industry.
Think about it: we don’t pay for the sites that we use; the advertisers do. So, that makes the advertisers the customers and we, the “users,” are the product being sold. Our attention is the product. The gradual change in our behavior and emotion is the product.
This means that if we choose to be “users” of this technology, it is up to us to understand how to interact with it safely.
We have been talking about this topic for years in our blog posts, with our clients, and in our group programs.
We want to share some of these resources again and give you the tools to explore your personal relationship with technology—as well as encourage you to look thoughtfully at your children’s relationship with social media and digital devices.
We Recommend the Following Posts
In this post, Debbie explores her personal relationship with social media sites and digital devices. You will be asked questions so that you, too, can contemplate your relationship to this technology.
Our goal in writing this post is to share the topics and talking points that we brought to our own family discussion, and to encourage you to start a dialogue with your own children.
This post helps you plan for a “digital detox”: a period of time when you refrain from using devices such as smartphones, televisions, computers, tablets, and/or social media sites. We also discuss ways to interweave tech-free hours into your daily life and start to create a better tech-life balance.